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Reducing stress may increase fertility, a new study suggests. At a fertility centre in Boston, US, some women took part in a stress management program in parallel with their IVF (in vitro fertilisation) treatment whilst others did not. It was found that the program had no effect on how many women conceived at the first try. However, women who failed at the first attempt and were trying to get pregnant a second time, whilst using the stress management techniques,experienced a 160 per cent greater pregnancy rate than those receiving IVF treatment alone. These new findings were presented at the annual meeting of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) in Atlanta in October.

‘Reproductive health experts have long wondered about the impact that stress may have on fertility, thus impeding a woman’s ability to conceive,’ said Alice Domar, of the Harvard Medical School, who runs the Boston fertility clinic. ‘This study shows that stress management may improve pregnancy rates, minimizing the stress of fertility management itself, improving the success rates of IVF procedures, and ultimately, helping to alleviate the emotional burden for women who are facing challenges trying to conceive,’ she added.

Domar and her colleagues randomly designated which of 97 of her patients would participate in a 10-session ‘mind/body’ program whilst undergoing IVF treatment. The program included relaxation training, cognitive-behavioural strategies and group support sessions. Of the women in the programme, 43 per cent became pregnant at the first attempt, with the additional stress management scheme having no effect. However, those that failed the first time and attempted a second round of IVF treatment apparently benefited from the stress management – with 52 per cent of the mind/body participants falling pregnant versus only 20 per cent of those who did not. The pregnancy rate jumped to 67 per cent for those women that took part in the program and exhibited ‘higher baseline symptoms of depression’ at the beginning of the study.

‘It’s clear based on this carefully designed study, that a holistic approach to infertility care leads to better outcomes for patients,’ concluded Dr R Dale McClure, president of the ASRM.

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